Thursday, December 23, 2021

My 10 Favorite Songs of 2021 (That Aren't by The Weather Station)

As was the case in 2020, the race for album of the year in 2021 was all but over early in the year: The Weather Station's Ignorance is every bit the generational masterpiece Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters was. I've already written about that album and many of its most brilliant tracks ("Heart" is unquestionably my favorite song of the year), so those won't feature here. What will? Hopefully a fairly good cross-section of great songs, spanning a solid cross-section of genres (though I haven't really kept up with much in the way of metal this year, I'll admit). 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Music Review - "Ignorance" by The Weather Station

The most ebullient song of Tamara Lindeman's work to date as The Weather Station arrives on the second-to-last track of her latest album Ignorance. "I don't have the heart to conceal my love / When I know it is the best of me" are her first words on the track (fittingly titled "Heart"), heard over a bed of warm piano and just a faint trace of percussion there in the background. Then the beat kicks in properly—an insistent, disco-infused thing that propels the song forward as Lindeman gives voice to one gorgeously open-hearted sentiment after another.  It's probably the closest thing to a flat-out pop banger she's ever written, yet the gentle shaping of its melodic contours—and what a melody this song has, truly—are something else entirely and perfectly mirror the lyrics' balance of softheartedness and strongly held conviction. ("I guess that I am soft, but I am also angry" is a beautifully concise encapsulation of existing in a world so casually indifferent to various injustices.) The sheer effervescence of the whole thing is breathtaking—one of those real all-timer moments in music that only come along every so often. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"Hades" Olympians Ranked (by Boon Strength)

I began my journey through Hades unsure of whether I'd ever be able to win a single run. One of my favorite combinations of boons early on, as someone who found (and still does, though I've gotten better at it) the fast-paced combat of the game particularly difficult when fighting enemies in close quarters, involved Athena's Divine Dash to deflect projectiles and a heavily upgraded Poseidon cast that did a ton of damage and complemented whatever Infernal Arm I happened to be using. (It remains my preferred cast whenever possible, mainly due to how much it can trivialize many of the tiny rooms in the Styx region if leveled up correctly.) The game allows you to build a combo like this on the vast majority of your runs by simply selecting the keepsake of your preferred god, then swapping it out for a different one later in the run. You may of course still not get the specific boon you want, but with three to choose from*, I found much of the time I did.

(* Of course, an option on higher difficulties can reduce your choices.) 

The downside of this strategy, however, is that other, potentially more powerful keepsakes sit unused for most of the run. It's also, frankly, a little boring and means the game loses the sort of improvisatory spirit that made fellow roguelike Slay the Spire one of my favorite games ever made. I love getting a particular card or relic in that game and having to design my build around it—sometimes it ends in failure, but it's amazing when it succeeds and you discover a fantastic new (and sometimes wildly overpowered) way of constructing your deck. The best option for replicating this feeling in Hades, I've found, is to use Persephone's Pom Blossom once you've unlocked it, as it lets you randomly level up boons after every few encounters. Add in the additional power-ups you get along the way, and your boons can become incredibly leveled-up. Meanwhile, not favoring a specific god means you can try out tons of new combinations. At this point I pretty much always use the Pom Blossom all the way through Elysium before switching to Skelly's keepsake (the one that gives me an extra life) before the last region. It's become by far my favorite way to play the game.